New York — Unless you’re really following the music scene, chances are good you haven’t heard of — or heard, for that matter — the Fleetwood Mac.
They sing blues, among other things, and in a recent poll, they scored as the fourth most popular group in England right behind the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jethro Tull.
Well, that’s where the Beatles started, too.
It helps to see as well as to hear the Fleetwood Mac — to watch, for example, Peter Green bending over his guitar, carefully choosing the notes of his hauntingly beautiful song, “Albatross.”
Flanking Peter one recent night at New York’s Fillmore East were the four other members of the group, all working with equal concentration to achieve the melting poetic charm of the instrumental.
Fleetwood Mac: Light show background
Glowing on a screen in back of them was a formless mass of gently shimmering light and color which suggested a Monet painting.
A few moments before, the energy and power of their music had the crowd screaming. Now they were calm. A trance-like serenity gripped the audience.
Green, the leader of the group, professes to hate musical labels, but in an interview, he conceded that the Fleetwood Mac was primarily a blues group.
In answer to the inevitable question as to whether an Englishman can successfully sing authentic blues, he responded, “Yes and no. In one sense, only blacks can do it, because it’s a black musical form. But to me, blues means something sad. We don’t try to imitate black men, but we do follow their style.”
The Fleetwood Mac feel they have something unique to contribute to the blues form. “We play however we want, and do not flow in a particular vein. It all comes out as one band, but a lot of different things go into it,” Green said.
Fleetwood Mac’s distinctive sound
Part of the distinctiveness of their sound can be attributed to the rarity of having three lead guitars rather than the customary one. Both Green and Danny Kirwan have a similar guitar style which stresses elaboration on a basic progression, while Jeremy Spencer seems to be more into the elemental power of 1950’s rock.
Concerning their influences, Peter remarked, “We had no success until we developed our own bit. It was not a conscious thing, but as soon as we stopped trying to imitate we picked up fans.”
Their three albums trace their progression and evolution. The earliest, “Fleetwood Mac,” betrays a heavy emphasis on simple, direct and powerful blues. “English Rose,” their second, is a patchwork of various unrelated tracks from different English albums. The third, “Then Play On,” is rich in musical diversity, although still broadly blues.
The purpose of their music is in harmony with the traditional aims of blues. Peter said that his music comes from “my feelings and my experiences. It brings out emotions and conveys how bad things are. In this sense, I’m not interested so much in music as such, but in truth.”
As befits his seriousness he spoke at length about how he strives “not to waste words.” For this reason, he likes classical symphonies. Because of their meticulous choice of notes, what the classical musician said 100 years ago is still valid today.
The purpose of his music is “to try to show all that I feel. It’s all I can do in my own way to protest.” His evocative hard blues are testimony to his dissatisfaction with the way things are today.
Video: Fleetwood Mac “Oh Well” performed live (1969)